If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.


Our reason for creating WWK originated as an outlet for our love of reading and writing mystery fiction. We hope you love it, too, and will enjoy our holiday gifts to our readers with original short stories to celebrate the season. Starting on 11/16 stories by Warren Bull, Margaret S. Hamilton, Paula Gail Benson, Linda Rodriguez, KM Rockwood, Gloria Alden, and E. B. Davis will appear every Thursday into the New Year.


Our November Author Interviews: 11/8--Ellen Byron, and 11/15--Sujata Massey. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.


November Saturday Bloggers: 11/4 Margaret S. Hamilton and 11/11 Cheryl Hollon.


Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.


In addition, our prolific KM will have the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," just published, will appear in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Sunday, June 2, 2013

TWO Secrets to Writing Success


I could try to drag the suspense out, but I won’t.

1. READ

2. WRITE

Order counts.

READ

I’ve kept a list of every book I’ve read since I started high school. The list numbers 2,149 and does not count rereads of favorite books. Nor does it reflect other reading including short stories, essays, magazines, text books, professional journals and whatnot. That averages roughly 44 books a year. The standard deviation is high. The years range from a low of 6 (1986, a year that included the birth of my second child and taking over significant new work responsibilities) to 97 (tie for 2005 & 2007).

Using a rough rule of thumb of 250 words per page, that means I read about 3.5 million words in books in an average year. It’s almost 7 million since I started writing.

Reading provides us at least three benefits: We gain factual knowledge outside our personal experience. We learn how others write well (and what writing mistakes they make). We get to experience the world through others’ eyes.

I’m an eclectic reader, enjoying both fiction (mostly crime, but some science fiction, a touch of fantasy and the odd bit of literature) and non-fiction (history, science/math, economics/business, biography, contract bridge and writing). In my days as an actuary I once had a boss who provided these words of wisdom as he saw me reading a professional journal. “It’s good to know that stuff, but it’s critically important to understand what’s new in other fields. Taking their ideas and applying it to your area of expertise often yields new insights.”

Without a continually renewed base of reading, our own writing will not be fresh or informed.

WRITE

I am willing to concede that some writers are so gifted they have the ability to write well without any learning period but I know I am not one of them, so it doesn’t matter to me whether these mythically gifted writers exist. Writers learn to write by writing.

I have spoken to scores of authors from as yet unpublished to world-famous and each one has said the equivalent: their first writing was not very good. Here’s a quote from Ken Follett about his first published novels:

My agent suggested I use a pseudonym because, she said, “you might want to write better books later”. Boy, was she right. I chose the name Symon Myles. Unfortunately, The Big Needle has since been republished under my own name in the US. It’s not available anywhere else and I plan to keep all three of these books hidden away.

The 10,000-hour “rule” has recently been stated as the amount of time necessary to attain expert status at a particular skill. I’m skeptical about any particular set level and want to caution about hours being the only criteria for success. Using my math terminology, I would call it a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement. Without putting in the time, no success; however, other factors are also required for success.

I once had a job performance discussion with an employee who desired a good balance between work and “life.” He wanted to work his forty hours and go home. At the time, many of us worked about sixty hours a week. I pointed out that at the end of five years, he would have five years of experience. Someone like me would have the equivalent of 7.5 years of experience. Assuming the same quality of work, the sixty-hour per week person would be paid more and promoted faster. Also, when push came to shove, they would get plum assignments because they would do whatever it took to get the job done. As long as he understood that reality, I could work around his desire for balance.

Each of us must decide the equivalent issue for ourselves. Those at the top of any field have focused most of their life in pursuit of that pinnacle level of expertise. As a writer, if you are not committed to “ass in the chair” as Nora Roberts once called it, you won’t make it.

That’s not to say you can’t eventually succeed with less effort per day/week/moth/year; it will just take longer and others will pass you by.

~ Jim

11 comments:

Gloria Alden said...

I agree with your two rules, Jim. I only started keeping a record of books read in the inside covers of my journals some years ago, but I've never totaled it up except for one year and that was I think 69 books in one year. I'm certainly not as a prolific reader as you are, but I am an eclectic reader, too, although the books I read the most are mysteries and almost always have been. One of the reasons I enjoy my two book clubs is because books are picked that I might not have heard of or read if it wasn't for being that month's pick.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Book clubs in which choosing the book rotates among members is a great way to gain exposure to new books.

I would not say I am a prolific reader. I know people who read 300+ books a year, but that's their life and I have other things I enjoy doing (like writing).

~ Jim

Shari Randall said...

I wish I'd kept a list of all my reading (it would eliminate the "have I read this?" problem at the bookstore). My younger daughter started keeping a list in middle school - she also rates each book and makes notes. She has an orderly mind!

I love reading and writing. I am not sure if I am a reader-with-a-writing-problem or a writer-with-a-reading-problem. Currently, as I struggle with the WIP, it's the latter.

E. B. Davis said...

I wish I'd kept a record of my reading. I read a lot! Of course for my interviews here at WWK, I read each author I interview. Now, I read books first and then contact the author for the interview. It takes time, but it is necessary.

Having an ereader helps keep track of what I've read. For years I read from the library. I have no idea what all I've read.

As for butt in the chair--I woke up this morning to an empty house for the first time in a month. If I could have more time to myself, I'd write more. It's no wonder why I write shorts often. In the time I have to myself, writing shorts is doable. Of course, that's not all I want to write.

How to have time to myself to write is the problem I've always had. But then, I know enough to be careful for what I wish. I don't want to lose my family, I just want more time!

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Shari,

To completely eliminate the "Have I read this?" problem you need to take your list to the library -- which I only do when I have carted my computer with me.

I should put the list in the cloud so I can always retrieve it.

~ Jim

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Elaine,

One of the reasons writers go to libraries or coffee shops to write is to get away from life's distractions.

I am indeed lucky that I usually find a quiet place in the house where the worst I have to do is stick on earphones to pipe in ambient music to drown out the noises.

~ Jim

Judy said...

Great post. I teach a Creative Writing course and I always tell writers: READ, READ, READ! I'm going to pass your blog along to them.

Warren Bull said...

Like most "secrets" the two you named are already well known. Thanks for reminding us there are no shortcuts to success.

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Judy,

When I was a consultant, we used to joke that an expert was someone who said the same thing you did, but lived at least 100 miles away.

The same concept probably works for teaching as well.

~ Jim

James Montgomery Jackson said...

Warren,

"Secrets" are usually well known, except to those who haven't heard them or have forgotten.

~ Jim

Kaye George said...

I love this post! Absolutely true. I think the writer who doesn't have to pay dues is exceedingly rare. And maybe not all that good? Even those who pay dues will never write a perfect book. But we try, eh?